An increasing level of focus will be placed on sports venues’ multi-purpose capabilities and eco-friendly practices in the coming years, according to Kirsten Lees, managing partner at global design firm Grimshaw Architects.

Grimshaw’s sports and entertainment projects currently include a new stadium for Bath Rugby (pictured) and the multi-purpose YTL Arena complex in Bristol. With projects also covering sectors such as aviation, railway and science, the firm is well-placed to comment on the need to diversify in the design industry.

“Sports buildings are moving away from being single-use buildings occupied for just 20 or so days a year,” Lees tells “They are having to work much harder than ever before, serving multiple functions to operate successfully, resulting in a hybrid typology requiring new expertise to design.

“We are drawing on our international resources across all sectors as a way to offer new perspectives and insights into this emerging project dynamic. We anticipate a much greater emphasis on how buildings perform in terms of net-zero carbon and re-use and adaptation. Principles of flexibility and ingenuity are at the core of the practice’s ethos, and we look forward to assisting clients in working creatively and imaginatively to adapt their existing venues to meet the needs of the future.”

On Grimshaw’s multi-purpose approach, Lees adds: “Grimshaw prides itself on being a design-led practice that works across all sectors and all scales. While we are known as world leaders of infrastructure design, Grimshaw has always worked across multiple sectors and recognises that this is a key strength of the practice.

“Indeed, in the London studio this year we have completed eight buildings – all in sectors other than infrastructure and two of which are sports projects (Wimbledon No1 Court and The Curragh). With recent competition successes for Stadium for Bath, YTL Arena, Queens Tennis Centre and Belmont Park, we are excited to continue to build on these achievements and expand on our knowledge and experience within this space.”

Grimshaw designed the redeveloped Curragh Racecourse in County Kildare, Ireland, which reopened its doors in May. A new grandstand, parade rings and museum wing formed part of the plans, along with completely refurbished stable blocks.

Dublin-based architects Newenham Mulligan & Associates and engineers Aecom also worked on the project. The racecourse reached its season finale last month and Lees admits that the project was not without its challenges.

“The Curragh was a unique opportunity to create fantastic new facilities befitting a historic and prestigious racecourse,” she says. “The project involved much more than providing a new grandstand – it was a complete redevelopment and transformation of the entire grounds, including new stable yard and horse areas, pre-parade and parade rings, museum, landscaping and car parking, as well as providing the strategy for temporary hospitality facilities for large racing meets and other public events.

“Set within the beautiful landscape of the Curragh plains, it was important to create a design that was sympathetic to this unique context. When working with any existing site that has long-established traditions and identities, it is incredibly important to not lose existing qualities when transforming under-performing facilities.

“The project was delivered to a very challenging timeframe, ensuring that only one season of racing was affected by construction, during which racing continued throughout. We have been delighted with the incredibly positive feedback received, especially with regards to dramatic and elegant cantilevered roof that gives The Curragh a new identity and speaks to the long-term future of the site.”

Grimshaw has several ongoing projects in the sports sector. Lees said plans will be submitted for the Stadium for Bath project in early 2020, with revised designs having been released last month.

The revisions announced by the Stadium for Bath group include an overall height reduction of 5.1m on the 18,000-seat stadium, which will be built on the same site as the 14,500-capacity Recreation Ground.

Last week, Malaysian investment firm YTL submitted plans for its multi-purpose arena in Bristol. The planning application was submitted to Bristol City Council and South Gloucestershire Council and centres on a project to repurpose the Brabazon Hangars in the north of the city.

The plans were submitted following what Lees described as a “very intense but productive” design development process.

Elsewhere, planning permission was received in July 2018 for the expansion of RDS Arena in Dublin, home of Leinster Rugby. Grimshaw is awaiting “imminent” confirmation regarding the funding plans for the project, after which point the plans can move to the next stage.

The Belmont Park project in New York, which centres on a new arena for the Islanders NHL ice hockey team, is in the early concept design and brief development stages, while the Gunyama Aquatic and Recreation Centre in Sydney is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Lees feels that Grimshaw multi-sector approach ensures the firm is able to deliver more tailored projects to clients in the sports sector.

“Taking a holistic approach, we draw upon lessons learned from different types of projects to enrich our design response. There are many clear parallels to be drawn between sports projects and large-span infrastructure architecture – through which our experience working with engineers has paid dividends,” she says.

“Similarly, through our work on rail, metro and air projects, we are highly knowledgeable and adapt at dealing with large-scale people movement, complex construction sequences and multi-stakeholder engagement. We have been fortunate that several of our sports projects have been set within beautiful and sensitive landscapes and urban settings – Wimbledon, Curragh and Stadium for Bath being prime examples – each drawing on our experience working in other similar environments.

“This has been particularly relevant for the Stadium for Bath, located at the heart of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Our previous experience at Bath Spa, and other projects in heritage environments, equips us with the skills needed to gain major planning consents within the most historically-sensitive settings. We also bring to bear master planning experience across a wide range of scales and uses, particularly within operationally complex and commercially orientated context.”

Image: Stadium for Bath